Tag Archives: The Salvation Army

10 Leadership Lessons: Moyes, Ferguson and The Salvation Army

26 Apr


Alex Ferguson in my opinion was the greatest football manager there has ever been. He was Manchester United manager for 26 years winning 38 trophies including 13 Premier League titles and 2 European Cups. But his successor David Moyes was sacked this week after only 10 months in the job.

As Manchester United search for the new ‘chosen one’ the transition from Ferguson to Moyes has got me thinking about leadership particularly when you follow someone who has done so well.

So I have come up with 10 lessons I think we can learn about leadership.

1)   Succession Planning is vital when a departing leader is successful

Moyes was picked by Alex Ferguson to be his successor and you could see why as he appeared to be almost made in Ferguson’s image!

The Salvation Army has a much greater capacity for succession planning with local leadership positions than with the officers who run corps (churches). This is because officers are normally appointed from service elsewhere in the organisation rather from within a certain corps or department. However, I believe succession planning should be given more consideration when a departing leader has been successful over a long period of time.

2)   Give the successor time

Ferguson’s lengthy tenure as manager was always going to impact the early years of his successors tenure. I respect Manchester United’s leadership succession strategy but wish they had stayed true to their original beliefs and given Moyes more time.

It is the same in The Salvation Army and maybe where you work. Even when people expect results immediately people need time. I have heard time and time again in my training that often it is not until the 4th or 5th year of an appointment that things really start. I appreciate that this might be too long in other spheres of life but remember Alex Ferguson’s first trophy for Manchester United came after 4 years!

3)   Be careful what you change

When taking up leadership Moyes changed some of the key backroom staff. If his previous successor had left after a period of inertia then fair play, change the staff, but because the club had just won the league then maybe he should have kept them on. Why fix what is not broken? Furthermore, the club also lost their Chief Executive at the same time as Alex Ferguson.

If we focus on a successor alone without considering other changes that are taking place within the management team this will provide an incomplete picture of the subsequent effect on the performance of the organisation.

Again there may be reasons for ringing the changes in a workplace, but after a long period of success the philosophy does not need changing. The foundation is there so be careful what you change.

4)   What you do change needs to work and make sense

Moyes only made one signing in his first summer and it was not one that improved the squad in my opinion. He did not get the other star players he wanted.

Knowing what to change when you take over leadership must be a difficult task. I think it all depends on what kind of circumstances you take over from but the things you do change need to make sense.

5)   Responsibility lies with players/members too

While Moyes ultimately takes responsibility for the team, I think the Manchester United team need to also. They did not play well; made far too many individual mistakes and really only their goalkeeper improved his game this season.

I believe The Salvation Army is only as strong as its membership. The Salvation Army is known for many things such as ‘Faith in action’ and ‘Christianity with its sleeves rolled up’. However, we are not known for incisive thinking, academic ability and for developing members and leaders in a strong ‘thinking culture’. I am not suggesting we all become intellectuals and know all the theories but we need a vibrant ‘thinking culture’ across the whole movement so we can engage with God’s word and the challenges in the world. This is not just down to leaders.

6)   The role of luck

I think Moyes has been unlucky with injuries and crucial game changing moments this season. That extra bit of luck might have saved him his job.

Although I do not believe in ‘luck’ per se the successor does need a period without things persistently stopping their leadership momentum. There will be things we can control and things we cannot. Some people believe in fate and many Christians have a strong belief in the providence of God. However, I believe chance is at work in our world but it is not the all that is at work in our world. Maybe I will come back to that topic one day!

7)   The importance of Sabbath or rest

Manchester United and Bayern Munich both had manager changes after successful trophy winning seasons. Bayern Munich not only got a manager who had experience at winning at the highest level but they also got a manager who had just taken a year off resting. He came in fresh and won the league for Bayern in record time.

Salvation Army officers all too often burn as it is not a 9-5 job, it is a lifestyle. Interestingly too, it is compulsory for Methodist ministers to have a 3 month sabbatical every 7 years. Salvation Army officers are allowed to apply for a sabbatical, but it only available once you have served for at least 15 years. Maybe that is something that can be improved.

8)   Vision needs to be clear

Ryan Giggs, the new caretaker manger of Manchester United, has outlined the vision of how he wants the team to play; with passion, speed, courage, imagination, a strong work ethic and to put the smiles back on the fans faces. Incidentally this encapsulates the philosophy of the team from the last 20 years bar this year.

While I think organisations need a vision, my feeling is that values are every bit as important. However, people need to buy into the vision/values and therefore it is crucial that the vision is not chosen merely because it matches the leaders strengths.

9)   Grooming potential leaders

One thing Moyes did do was he appointed two of ‘Fergie’s fledglings’ Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville to the coaching staff. I think it is great that leaders come through the system. Grooming potential leaders is a process that takes years and needs to be planned for.

I think the challenge for The Salvation Army is to bring through leaders in an environment that encourages differences of opinion. Unless we want to develop ‘yes men and women’ we need to give future leadership room to engage with decision-making.

10)  Supporting the leader

The Manchester United fans never stopped supporting their team when they could have turned on them.

Organisations such as The Salvation Army and the leaders within it need all the support they can get. Many people and organisations support us in our work. But internally when the going gets tough people need to rally around their leader although inevitably every situation will have its own merits for how long this is the right thing to do.









12 Years a Slave: Does God Approve of Slavery?

1 Mar


As the Oscars approaches I’ve been thinking about the film 12 Years a Slave, which surely will be rewarded with at least one Oscar statuette. This film has a compelling storyline, it’s brilliantly directed and features superb camera angles but more than that it is also immensely personally challenging.

Based on the 19th-century memoir of Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave follows the tribulations of an educated carpenter, musician and family man from New York State who, in 1841, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south – a shockingly common occurrence. Stripped of his past, his identity and even his humanity, the renamed “Platt” becomes the property of plantation owner Ford whose comparatively benign and sympathetic demeanour belies his slave owner status. But after incurring the rage of sadistic farmhand Tibeats, “Platt” is sold down the river to Epps, a broiling cauldron of psychotic rage whose desire for slave girl Patsey appears to be pushing him ever further into a black hole of sadistic cruelty.

As I looked around at the ethnically diverse cinema audience, very few people sat comfortably as we witnessed scenes of rape and torture. Even though I know almost 200 years and an Atlantic Ocean separate me from that particular story I still felt deeply ashamed. I can only begin to imagine how those of African origin felt in the audience, perhaps a mix of anger and profound sadness that it took so long for humanity to recognize all people as equals.


But as the film continued my discomfort was compounded as the slave owners used Scripture to legitimate their slave status. Now if we are serious about believing every verse in the Bible then maybe I should kill those working on the Sabbath at the Academy Awards (Exodus 35:7) and why not get the whole town together to stone some of our farmers for growing crops side by side (Exodus 35:2). Am I morally obligated to rebuke Salvationists for wearing their mixed-fabric uniforms prohibited in Leviticus 19:19? Furthermore, are we not free to sell our daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7)?

As far as slavery goes, the bottom line is that the Bible does and doesn’t tolerate it. But it is also important to remember that the whole Bible is a story of how slaves, the Jewish nation, were set free from slavery. I think the biblical cultural understanding of slavery is possibly akin to how people in 100 years time will look at us and say, “I can’t believe our great-grandparents drove their cars knowing full well they were polluting the atmosphere!”

Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr writes that if we stumble on passages that seem outrageous to us today, let us try to interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did. Even more than telling us exactly what to see in the Scriptures, Jesus taught us how to see, what to emphasize, and also what could be de-emphasized, or even ignored.  Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalistic texts in his own Jewish Bible in favour of texts that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and justice for the oppressed. When Christians state that every line in the Bible is of equal importance and inspiration, they are being very unlike Jesus. Jesus read the inspired text in an inspired way, which is precisely why he was accused of “teaching with authority and not like our scribes” (Matthew 7:29).

As a trainee Salvation Army officer I am acutely aware that I need to model responsible interpretation of Scripture. However, perhaps you have been dissuaded from believing in God or being involved in a church because some Christians have used isolated verses to champion their suspect positions and opinions.

Whoever you are I hope that you may know the big overarching story in the Bible, of a creator God who has a dream for all humanity, who although we can’t fully understand it become a man, and showed us a blueprint of how we can make our world a better place so we can live out fulfilling and healthy relationships.

This is a challenge to all Christians but I hope it also serves as inspiration to everyone to come back to the Bible in the context of God’s dream of a better world – one without the ills of slavery, especially today’s slavery that continues in its modern form: human trafficking.




10 Life Lessons Learned from Running the London Marathon

26 Apr

So the marathon is over and I figured if I’ve got nothing to say about training for a marathon then I probably won’t recognise inspiration if I see it ever again! What an experience! Months of training, weeks of fundraising and 3 hours 58 minutes of running through the streets of London cheered on by over 700,000 people! As you might know I’m studying at The Salvation Army College in London and we are encouraged to ‘reflect’ quite a bit so here are some reflections on my experience. I’ve come up with 10 life lessons learned inspired by running the marathon and hope they might be compatible in your life too whether you’re a runner or not. If they are not helpful, at least I’ve satisfied my need to reflect! So here goes…well after the picture of me at the end of the raise with my number 1 fan!


1)   Sow lots of seeds – I was set a fundraising target of £2000 which I worried I wouldn’t achieve but actually a few days after the marathon it looks more like £4000! This is largely down to the generosity of people, especially given the economic climate. However, I think it is also because I tapped into a number of different fundraising avenues such as events, support from local businesses, social media, doing guest speaking, a publicity campaign and getting in papers. Thank you everyone who sponsored me!

2)   Create space in your life – Someone asked me whether I thought “spirituality” and running are linked. I have come to the conclusion that they are not linked directly but are associated via the space. What I mean is that I haven’t had an increased sense of spirituality because of running per se, but the ‘space’ that running provides in my busy and cluttered twenty first century life facilitated time to think, to pray and reflect. No checking football news, no Facebook, no TV.

3)   Aim higher than your perceived potential – My training suggested I would finish the marathon in around 4 hours and 15mins, perhaps 4 hours at best – a good time although not super fast! Anyway I decided to aim to run a consistent pace that would bring me home at around 3 hours 42 mins, knowing as I became more tired I would have 18 minutes as a buffer to reach my 4-hour target. However, my ambitious pace (for me) meant I knew I was above target for most of the race and eventually came home at 3 hours 58 mins. Now while aiming too high in life can have negative consequences, I think if you aim higher than your perceived best in life you just might surprise yourself and find your true potential.  If you fall slightly short you will probably meet your original perceived best anyway.

4)   Know what takes priority in life – Whilst I tried to protect my training schedule, sometimes I just had to cancel because I knew that when the really important things in life reared their head, as they do, I felt fine just to cancel. It’s easy to get this one wrong when you get into a hobby or work. But because our lives are interconnected we know our aims can come at the cost of those around us, and I believe this is having an impact on family life in society. This is the kind of lesson you learn the hard way too.

5)   Seek and take advice from experts – I muddled on with a knee injury for two months without seeking proper advice. I tried to manage my body after doing some internet research but really if I’d gone to a doctor earlier I would have been able to train to a faster time and had less pain.

6)   Be economic with time – Training for a marathon takes up a lot of time especially if you’re fundraising as well. Now while it could have taken over my life, I tried to manage it in such a way that where possible I integrated life and my running schedule. For example, my wife occasionally came running with me on short runs, I listened to lectures whilst running and I ran to or from appointments I had – often beating London transport! Inevitably, training for a marathon has a huge impact on time but the marginal gains available from being economic with time are the difference between it all becoming too much and having a sustainable balance in life.

7)   Enlist support and find the people who energize you – On race day my family and friends were dotted around the course cheering me on which was such a support. In the months before the race and throughout my fundraising I had a whole community at The Salvation Army training college and online who encouraged me. Thanks guys!

 8)   Allow people to help you with their gifting’s and skills – Some people are born fundraisers and took some of that burden off me. Others hosted fundraising nights, cooked food and assisted with administration etc. It’s amazing what a group of people can achieve.

9)   Get the right equipment – Whatever your aim is in life, if practically possible try and get good equipment to help you achieve your potential. For me that meant some proper running shoes and socks!

10) Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough (Sir Alex Ferguson) – I beat former athletics Olympic medallist Iwan Thomas, although he’s getting on a bit now! However, I think this quote from football manager Alex Ferguson is really insightful. It’s an encouragement to those of us without obvious natural talent, and a warning to those who have.

Hope these we’re helpful and translate into your own life!


P.S If you want to contribute to my fundraising effort to give people clean and safe water through The Salvation Army’s international development work click on the following link. Thank you! https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Cotterill1/


Lincoln, Leadership and The Salvation Army

7 Feb


I recently saw the film Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis which tells the story of President Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery.

In the film directed by Spielberg, there is a scene where the bombastic and powerful House Ways and Means Chairman, Thaddeus Stevens privately debates with the president.  Stevens, a staunch abolitionist, is concerned about Lincoln’s apparent equivocation on the issue of slavery, and urges unwavering adherence to a “moral compass” that points unambiguously toward “True North.” Lincoln counters that this is all well and good, except when your moral compass steers you into a swamp. Your True North doesn’t matter much then. You’re stuck in the swamp.

I don’t know if this debate ever happened or if the credit goes to the scriptwriters. But in any case, the tension between principles and pragmatism is at the root of many dilemmas facing leaders today.

Some leaders simplistically frame this in “either/or” terms: you can either be true to your principles or completely abandon your principles by succumbing to outside pressures. But extraordinary leaders like Lincoln seek a more nuanced understanding by harnessing the dialectical tension—forging solutions that embrace both the principles they hold dear while at the same time acknowledging the real-world factors that are often beyond their control.

Thaddeus Stevens was put to the test when asked to speak in front of the House of Representatives during the critical debate on the Thirteen Amendment that would abolish slavery. Stevens had long argued that slavery should be abolished on the basis of the principle that all men are equal, regardless of their race.  But on this occasion, he is cautioned that a full-throated and candid articulation of his views would be amplified by a fickle press, instigating fear among crucial Representatives, and lead to certain defeat of the measure.

At the moment of truth, Stevens backs down from his purely principled position, softening to the more palatable argument that all men should be treated equally under the law.  While certain radical Republicans were aghast, his more tempered plea was exactly what was called for under the circumstances, and the constitutional amendment passed by a meager two votes.


Stevens could have stuck to his original moral compass, which would have steered him directly into the swamp. Instead, through his struggle, he discovered a new authentic True North voice, one that worked in service of his ultimate purpose, the abolition of slavery.

We all have a moral compass don’t we, some kind of cause we strive for or believe in. The Salvation Army’s True North is to communicate and live out the transforming message of Jesus, bringing freedom and hope into lives of a world of the hurting, broken, lonely and lost, reaching them in love by all means necessary.

The movement has grown and now faces many challenges in the 21st century such as how to be forward thinking as membership rates drop alongside a tendency to live on the glory of the good old days. Ask Microsoft and Apple how difficult it is to remain successful, and not only in one country but many. Today, The Salvation Army is in 126 countries but aspires to be one movement.

It’s not easy to change. As leaders and members of The Salvation Army (indeed any organization), we must be able to recognize the strong entailment of our history on our mission and form without making that history a definitive model. We need to look again at our core beliefs and values, our ‘True North’ and be ready to throw out cultural additions accumulated through the ages that hinder rather than promote our values.

Imagine as General Linda Bond (world leader of The Salvation Army) envisions:

‘a God-raised, Spirit-filled Army of the 21st century, convinced of its calling, moving forward together into the world the hurting, broken, lonely, disposed and lost, reaching them in love by all means with the transforming message of Jesus, binging freedom, hope and life.’

How we avoid the swamp of irrelevancy, of reputation protecting at all costs, and of division is not an easy question. How do we find an authentic True North that serves the vision, but might call upon us to change, which might seem unnatural or risky. Again I don’t have a complete answer.

But I’m reminded in Lincoln that extraordinary leaders like Abraham Lincoln seek a more nuanced understanding forging solutions that embrace both the principles they hold dear while at the same time acknowledging the real-world factors. The Salvation Army was not created to be risk-averse but at the same reckless decision-making and wholesale changes will likely steer us wayward.  Keeping our True North in mind will help us plot our way forward, though at times change may hurt, but ultimately allow us not to end up in a swamp!